Several years ago, I enjoyed a great performance by Chicago’s Hubbard 2 Dance Company at Rollins College in Winter Park, but my entertainment actually started before the curtain rose, as I watched two wiry, impish women in their late 70s claiming squatters’ rights in my row. Clearly, they were in the wrong seats, but as the young college student usher tried to pry them loose, they began regaling him with distracting stories that had nothing to do with their seats.
I chuckled as they called him “dear” or “sweet young man” what seemed like a thousand times! Miraculously, he eventually managed to have them leave, so the people holding the actual tickets for those spots could be seated.
Well, after having a good laugh about it—just as the lights were dimming and the curtain about to rise—I spotted the two of them — now muscling their way into the front row!
Truth be told — we are all trying to get somewhere in this life and, although each of us may envision that destination in different ways, for the most part, where we are trying to get is ahead — to the front of the line. We’re clearly more interested in ascending rather than descending.
However, if we are to believe today’s Scripture readings, we have it all wrong. For a disciple of Jesus Christ, to ascend, to move up — is to be headed in the wrong direction!
At times, like those comical ladies at the theater, sneaking their way to the front, we want to get ahead, to climb up — but Jesus keeps choosing and calling us to the descending way — the way of sacrifice; the way of emptying; the way of letting go; the way of going to those cast aside; the way of seeking the hurt, the lost, those in pain; the way of facing our failures squarely and learning from them, rather than blaming someone else.
Spiritual writer Father Henri Nouwen, in his book The Selfless Christ, wrote:
“The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid.”
Despite the weighty and radical question posed by Jesus today, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” this is no finger-wagging Jesus, piling on the guilt or raising the bar so high we can’t even see it, let alone hurdle it. Rather, he modeled this path and traversed this path ahead of us. As the Letter to the Hebrews confirms, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way.” Jesus is living proof of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord’s will is accomplished through the one who gives his life away; the one who because of affliction, “shall see the light in fullness of days.”
The two-edged sword that is the Word of God reappears this week to transform our great desire for upward mobility—whether as individuals, as a family, as a nation, as a Church—as Jesus offers us downward mobility as the goal, the prize, the truth. As he always seems to be doing, Jesus keeps turning everything upside down and reorienting us on our path of life.
In what direction will each of us be heading this week?
Father Berinti serves as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach.